The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism Summary

Carl F. H. Henry


In the first half of the twentieth century, division arose among Protestant denominations between people who believed the Bible was God’s word about humanity (Fundamentalists, a term Carl F. H. Henry capitalizes in his book) and those who believed it was a human world about God (Liberals). On a denominational level, the Fundamentalists lost most of the battles, and the Liberals came to dominate the larger denominations. Because the Liberals emphasized the social aspects of Christianity, the Fundamentalists retreated to individual concerns. In response to Henry’s challenge, the National Association of Evangelicals was strengthened, Fuller Theological Seminary was founded, and ther periodical Christianity Today was established. Henry not only called for these developments but also was instrumental in all three institutions.

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism contains eight addresses that Henry originally delivered at Gordon College of Theology and Missions in Boston. In the first, “The Evaporation of Fundamentalist Humanitarianism,” he says that Fundamentalists make much of the embarrassment of religious Liberalism. Two world wars and an intervening depression have shown the Liberal Christians’ belief in human goodness and inevitable progress to be false. Seeing that one’s opponents are wrong does not, however, make one’s own position right. Fundamentalism has withdrawn from society and has no agenda for confronting the problems of aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, and the injustices of management and labor. Moreover, Fundamentalists no longer even point out these evils in their preaching. Some have concluded from the silence of the Fundamentalists that they have no plan for social improvement because their pessimism about human nature leads them to believe that no social progress is possible.

In chapter 2, “The Protest Against Foredoomed Failure,” Henry notes that nothing could be less true than the idea that the biblical view of humanity precludes social improvement. Indeed, only the biblical estimate of humanity’s sinfulness and need for regeneration is sufficiently realistic to offer a cure for social ills. The reason Fundamentalists refuse to endorse Liberal programs for social reform is that they know that those programs are foredoomed to failure. Fundamentalists realize that the Liberals’ naïve and misplaced confidence in humanity grows out of a superficial view of reality. They understand that the key to world betterment is to insist on human “lostness” and God’s ability to restore the responsive sinner. Instead of leading the way, however, Fundamentalists spend all their energies resisting the programs of Liberals. In doing so, they have abandoned their heritage and narrowed their world-changing message to a world-resisting one. No twentieth century Fundamentalist has...

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Sources for Further Study

Henry, Carl F. H. Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1986. Henry explains his involvement in the creation of evangelicalism.

Larsen, Timothy, ed. The Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Defines the evangelical movement as having arisen in Britain in the 1730’s and covers the lives and achievements of famous evangelicals and their precursors, from John Wyclif in the fourteenth century to modern figures born as late as 1935.

Marsden, George. Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987. An insider’s history of the movement and institutions Henry helped to lead.

Patterson, Bob E. Carl F. H. Henry. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983. A theological biography explaining Henry’s work in its historical setting.

Zoba, Wendy Murray. The Beliefnet Guide to Evangelical Christianity. New York: Three Leaves Press, 2005. Contains a good article on Henry.